Chalene Johnson (IG: @chalenejohnson) is a world-renowned motivational speaker with more than 30 years as a health expert. She has sold millions of fitness videos and holds The Guiness Book of World Record for having starred in the most fitness videos. Chalene is a New York Times bestselling author and top health podcaster.
In this episode, we discuss:
- The brain scan that changed Chalene’s life
- Coming to terms with orthorexia
- The negative side of the fitness industry
- Chalene coming clean with her audience
- There’s more than one approach to health
- Allow time to heal
- The difference between “real food” and “clean food”
- Chalene’s before & after brain scan
- The downward cycle of prescriptions
- What is the 131 Method?
- The three phases of 131
- Pay attention to what you eat
- The trickery behind food marketing
- The four fasts of the 131 Method
- Starvation vs. fasting
- Refuelling with a clean slate
- Stop all the food rules
- Chalene’s current fitness & sleep routines
- Learning to relax
- Family time comes first
Thrive Market <== As a new customer you get a free 30-day membership, 25% off your order, and free shipping (US only)
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Organifi <== 20% off all Organifi products
Chalene Johnson – 131 Method (book)
Chalene Johnson’s website
Follow Chalene Johnson on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
Chalene Johnson – Push (book)
The Chalene Show (podcast)
Build Your Tribe (Chalene’s podcast)
Dr. Daniel Amen (books)
Amen Clinics – Brain SPECT
Dr. Valter Longo – The Longevity Diet (book)
Jesse: Hello and welcome to The Ultimate Health Podcast, Jesse Chappus here with Marni Wasserman and we are here to take your health to the next level.
Marni: Each week we will bring you inspiring and informative conversations about health and wellness, covering topics of nutrition, lifestyle, fitness mindset, and so much more.
Jesse: In this week, we are speaking with Chalene Johnson. She’s a world renowned motivational speaker with more than 30 years as a health expert. She has sold millions of fitness videos and holds the Guinness Book of World Record for having starred in the most fitness videos. Chalene is a New York Times bestselling author and top health podcaster.
Marni: I really love Chalene’s message as it comes from such a real place and I can totally relate to her. She was healthy doing her thing, spreading her message, and then she had a health crisis and it made her really reevaluate everything she was doing and everything she was saying. And I went through the same thing when I was teaching about plant based cooking, eating vegetarian. I was feeling great for years. And then I got Hashimoto’s and my health broke down and I had to really change over what my message was and how I was feeding myself and how I was talking to my audience. So Chalene and I have a lot in common. So she’s gonna walk us through how she broke herself down to really build herself back up. And now she’s here to tell the story and we get into so many good juicy things on today’s episode. So here’s what we talk about, the brain scan that changed Chalene’s life, the negative side of the fitness industry, how Chalene came clean with her audience. The difference between real food and clean food. What her new book, the one three one method is all about and the three phases, how starvation and fasting differ and Chalene’s current fitness and sleep routine. So excited you guys are gonna to love this very real and very authentic conversation. Here we go with Chalene Johnson.
Marni: Hi Chalene, how are you? Welcome to the show.
Chalene: I’m so excited to be here.
Jesse: Chalane were so excited to have you on the show. This has been a long time coming and I want to start off going back three years ago, you were prepping for your 200 exercise video and you experienced a health scare. So take us back there.
Chalene: I was doing a podcast interview with Dr. Daniel Amen. And uh, we were talking about add and brain fog and I was kind of joking around about my symptoms and after we finished the interview, he with a lot of seriousness in his voice, said, I really, really want you to come in and have your brain scanned. So I did. And I just thought that, that they would just see this remarkable brain and I’m so healthy and so fit and I got a failing health score. I mean all the way around. It was pretty devastating. It was embarrassing. It was devastating. It was um, eyeopening and it was also a gift.
Marni: Was it something going into it that you knew that there was anything to be worried about or was just like, let’s go have a health scan and a brain scan and see what’s going on?
Chalene: That’s a good question. I think for so many of us as we get over the age of 40 you start hearing things like, oh yeah, me too. Well I can’t concentrate. I can’t remember my kids’ middle names. I can’t remember where I parked. I irritable, my joints are aching, all these things that we just go, well I guess I’m just getting older. And for me it was all of those things. But I did feel like when people describe brain fog, I don’t really know what that means. I thought there was like maybe I had a brain tumor or something was going on because it wasn’t just brain fog. I would stroke, like I would have a friend walking towards me, a friend who I see every day and I wouldn’t be able to remember their name for a moment and I would start to panic like, oh my gosh, I’m like, what is wrong with me? What is wrong with my brain? Or I would put my keys in the microwave instead of my Coffee Cup, like just, and I’m like, what am I doing? It got so bad that I started blaming other people like, well, it’s because there’s so much on my mind and everyone’s making noise and everybody needs something from me and it’s because I’m stressed and I just need everyone to stop talking and stop breathing and stop living and just stay out of my way so I can focus. I just started to realize like this isn’t normal, this is not normal. And then the physical stuff I just was attributing to aging. So when I had the scan, we also ran a nutrition panel and a hormone panel and as well as a brain spect and on the brain spect, that was the greatest concern. That was very disheartening. The nutrition and the hormones. I felt like, okay, yeah, I think I could figure this out. But seeing the condition of my brain was just really upsetting and it was the catalyst for me to go, what the heck am I doing? Like I’m a health and fitness quote unquote expert. I’ve got millions of people who’ve done my workouts and if I’m getting this wrong, if I’m failing, what does that mean? I’ve done for the people who’ve been listening to me and following my lead.
Jesse: You mentioned there feeling upset, getting your results, but what were some of the first thoughts you had when you got these results read to you?
Chalene: That can’t be me. Hello, are you kidding? I exercise every single day. I eat quote unquote clean. These results can’t be accurate, and once they were just very obvious that they were mine. Honestly, it was a little bit of panic, fear and total confusion. How did this happen? I don’t understand. Like if I had been trying so hard, how have I gotten this wrong and what do I have to do? And I just, I went into my car. I’m a pretty even personality, like in terms of highs and lows. I don’t get really super excited and I don’t get low. I rarely cry, but I went and sat in my car and just cried because I was, I thought about my kids. I still get emotional thinking about it because what I’m looking at in terms of a failing health score is the result of my lifestyle choices. How could I have done this? And this means I’m going to burden my children if I’m in a failing state of health, if my brain is 20 years older than chronologically I am, they’re going to end up having to take care of my needs.
And that’s not fair to them and their life. And that motivated me more than anything related to thinking about myself. And I just made a decision that day. I’m like, I don’t care. I’m going to step away from everything. I’m going to step away from all of my businesses. I don’t care what it takes, I’m going to figure out how this happened and how I fix it.
Marni: So before we talk about what you did, can you give us a snapshot of what your Diet and lifestyle look like at this time?
Chalene: It makes me laugh now because I just thought it was normal. I thought it was ultra healthy. I didn’t realize how unhealthy it was. It started off with me quite by accident. I am probably most entrepreneurs, kind of a serial entrepreneur. I like solving problems for people and finding a way to to share that with other people and make some money in the process. And one of the ways I ended up doing that was by creating these exercise programs that solved a problem for me. I hadn’t studied exercise science or nutrition for that matter. My degree has nothing to do with that. It’s justice, morality and constitutional democracy. So I ended up in health and fitness kind of by accident, partly because of that, because I always felt like, gosh, do I really belong here? You know, am I fit enough am I tall enough and I’m certainly not tall enough am I lean enough, do I look the part I felt like I didn’t have any room for error. So I would exercise for like an hour and a half and I would eat really, really clean. I never had like a donut day or the kind of things that other people would just enjoy and I would try to exercise away what I felt were my genetic predispositions in terms of what my body would look like. And the longer I was in that position and then eventually creating consumer videos and infomercials and being on TV and being touted as a health and fitness expert and a celebrity fitness trainer, all of which were titles. I just didn’t know how I ended up with those titles. And I was so afraid that I would gain a couple of pounds in. The paradox of fitness is that the more you exercise, the more you have to exercise or eat less. And for me, I started just slowly doing both, you know, each year, and I’ve been in the fitness industry for 30 years, but each year, especially once things went into the consumer mode, I started eating less and exercising more, probably for about a 10 year period or maybe even an eight year period. I would say to the point where I was exercising like three hours a day and eating very few calories. I never thought of myself as being on a diet. I just thought, well, I’m five two and I’ve gotten super fit, so therefore there’s just not as much of me to move so I don’t get to eat as much and maybe this is just my genetics, my metabolism’s broken. I just never stopped.
Jesse: And was this fun for you? You are exercising so many hours a day and eating so little calories. How is that fun?
Chalene: I just really, this year I’ve come to grips with the fact that guy, I mean I was like the poster child for Orthorexia. That was a term I just never associated with someone like me. I dismissed the fact I would teach like two hours a day of classes, which I didn’t need to do. I wasn’t doing that for the money. I had already had, you know, sold millions of exercise DVDs. But I would do that to stay current and to test my workouts with live students. And so I would teach like two hours a day and that was their workout. And I wouldn’t think of it as my workout, but I was, you know, bottom line is I was doing those two hours, but because I didn’t think of them as my own workout, I would then come home and go, well, now I’ve got to do strength training and cardio or run. And I would work out for another, sometimes hour, it was part of my lifestyle. It was always in the back of my head. It didn’t become horribly debilitating until an experience I write about in the book where I was filming a consumer video and the producer called my husband and uh, asked him to have a private conversation with me about my physique and he was supposed to come to me and suggest that I try to get lower or leaner, loose some weight to become quote more inspirational so that the series would be more marketable. And for me that just triggered all of my self doubt, all of my imposter syndromes is all of my fears. It was like my worst nightmare coming true.
Marni: As it would, you know, you’re being totally analyzed and poked and prodded and you were used to this being in this industry, you know, that’s part of it, you’re always at the front of the class. People are looking at you for inspiration. So take us through that. How did that feel being so vulnerable and feeling like, you know, you had to be this perfect specimen of human.
Chalene: So I want to just say this because when I’ve told the story in the past, I think people want to like track down the producer or figure out who said this and like, oh my gosh, if people knew this was happening, this is normal. I mean that’s just the industry. So my story is more about how I handled it and how I interpreted it because we all have choice. I mean, I did a, um, a television appearance this week and I overheard the host who was like an inch big and I overheard the host. Someone said, well, I never see you eating. Do you do intermittent fasting? And I heard her say, no, I want to stay on TV. So I just don’t eat. And everybody laughed. And I thought, it’s not funny people. That’s, that industry and the fitness industry is, you know, especially the consumer fitness industry is very sick. I never, ever, ever got used to being looked at that closely. You know, I mean, it’s certainly more marketable to see someone in very, very short shorts and a short crop top. But I don’t wear that in my real life when I go to the gym. And so whenever I was wearing that I was like, oh, I always felt so naked and I know that their role, their job is to make sure I look good, I look my best. But you still, you stand there in front of like six strangers and they’re all just kind of like discussing quietly how you look in your outfit. And I’d just like right now I just, ugh, all those feelings, rush backer, I felt so judged and inadequate and not enough and never thin enough. Never tall enough, never lean enough. I always felt those things, you know, we would change outfits. And then you in your mind, you’re thinking, well, they just asked me to change outfits because I, I didn’t look lean enough in that outfit. And when this happened I was like, we’ll see all the things you were thinking they were saying were probably true because now you’ve got this phone call. So I kind of spiralled into, Oh God, this is so embarrassing and I need to prove my worth in this space, in this industry. And so I went for the very first time I really looked at, okay, so what kind of a crash diet could I do before this video series comes out? So I crashed dieted and I upped my exercise. If you can imagine too about four hours or more a day, legit like that’s insane to me. Now of course my body was breaking apart. I couldn’t even function. I couldn’t think I was so angry and irritable and on edge. Everything was failing. Nonetheless, when I showed up to film it, I stood in front of the producers and we do that same song and dance where they have you come out in your outfits and then the cash shows up and they, they want to see like how everything looks and they just looked me up and down and it was like the first time I got this like really big smile and they’re like, you look great, you look awesome. Which is such a strange thing to think how sick I was and what it took to get there. That and now I was just getting all this praise like you did it girl, you did it, you know, now you can. Now you can be the health role model now that you’re not healthy. It’s crazy.
Marni: And then you sharing that with your community and how people perceived you being so healthy. You know you sharing that picture on Instagram and you had mixed responses, so why don’t you share that?
Chalene: They weren’t that mixed. I would say 99% of them were praise. Like what are you doing? Oh my gosh, I cannot wait for this program to come out. You look amazing. Hashtag goals, you know, I want your body. What are you eating? What are you doing? And your eye sees the negative and that’s what you hold onto. And there were like maybe two or three out of hundreds and hundreds of comments, two or three comments. That really grabbed my attention because I knew they were seeing the truth. It was just a few people that said like, what’s going on? You don’t look right. You look unhealthy. Where did all your muscle go? You look anorexic, you look tired. You look old. I mean there were just very few of those, but those were the ones that stood out to me because I knew they were the truth.
Jesse: So Chalene, just to put this all in reference, going from this event that you did here with the picture and the response on Instagram to when you went and got the brain scan done, what’s the timeframe?
Chalene: I wish I could tell you that having filmed that video series and that event was my wakeup call, but it wasn’t, I mean I was still in it. Shortly after that video I took off six pounds total to do that series, which when you’re five two can look like, you know, 15 or 20. Trust me, I didn’t go back to like a crazy diet or anything. I just went back to like two and a half hours of exercise and eating clean. But I so thrashed my metabolism that those six pounds and more came back on pretty quickly. But then I was, you know, at my healthy weight and it wasn’t really until I had the brain scan that through the help of a team of integrative doctors in the interviews that I did and working at the Amen Clinic and just piecing together everything that contributes to what I was experiencing, I realized that it was my lifestyle choices. It was the oxidative stress and the condition I put my body in being in complete adrenal failure. It was the slowing of my metabolism. It was being in a fasted state, but in a state of restriction, a state of starvation. It was the overexercise, the under sleep, and that all led to a pretty bad case of leaky gut. So no matter how clean I was eating, it didn’t matter cause I wasn’t absorbing any of those nutrients. Nor was I eating enough.
Jesse: And coming back to your audience again, the moment you get the scan done in these tests done and you find out the results, I know you’re coming out with the book here and sharing the story and quote unquote coming clean with your audience. But as this is happening, how do you respond to your audience?
Chalene: I always share with them what’s going on. I believe that God places challenges in our lives for a reason and it’s often to serve be of service to others, but I also don’t think you can really be of service to others until you’ve figured out how to get through something or how to survive it or maybe a better way. I was very honest with them and letting them know what had happened and that I was trying to figure it out. I didn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. I did let them know many of the changes, like immediately those things that I knew I needed to change, like sleep and improving my gut health and what I needed to understand about exercise. And so I was taking them along the way with me as part of that journey. And the beautiful piece of that is it is because of my audience and because of the podcasts that I have that I had the ability to number one, tap into this platform and say, okay, this is working for me. I want to test it with a group of a hundred people, a thousand people and 5,000 people. And because of the platform I had, I was able too much as you two are just spend time with leading experts and learn so much. Just sometimes for selfish reasons, but it was being able to share that with my audience and help others. That has really brought this full circle.
Marni: At the beginning of your book, you actually start with that apology and kind of share everything about what you had experienced. So tell us about this and why you’ve done this.
Chalene: I wrote the book and I wrote the first two chapters and I turned it in and then I begged and begged and begged and I said, I have to rewrite this intro. I have to start this book off with an apology because if I don’t, I just, I don’t feel like it’s right. Like the whole point of this book is to set the story straight and to thank people for the trust that they’ve given me and to now recognize that I had an obligation of responsibility with my platform to have done more research to instead of just regurgitating what I heard other experts saying because it was popular, I had a responsibility to be skeptical, to look into it. Just ask to see the research, to learn to read research. If I’m going to say that I’m an expert, I need to have a much more conscientious approach to the position that I was in. So I start the book off with that apology and walk them through where I was and how I may have led them down that journey and where I am today and what is possible and really vowed to them that I will always have an open mind. And that what I share with them in this book is what we know today and that we’ve got to be open to new science and new findings. And it’s so exciting because we’re learning so much more every single day. But the worst thing that we can do all of us is to be dogmatic and believe that there’s only one way or only one approach or only one thing that’s gonna work or there’s only one way to eat for the rest of our lives because we’ll just be proven wrong.
Jesse: Now we’re going to take a quick break from our chat with Chalene to give a shout out to our show partner Thrive Market.
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Marni: And now a shout out from our other show partner Sunwarrior. The Liquid Light is such a great way to get your minerals on. Often we’re so focused on macronutrients that we forget about the micros and micros are such an essential part to healing and repairing the gut and giving your body the nutrition it requires to thrive at its best. So don’t deprive your body of minerals, get it through lots of good organic whole foods and add some Liquid Light to your water. So if you haven’t tried the Liquid Light yet, get a bottle of it. Take a capful, put it in your water, sip on it throughout the day, and you’re just going to get a dose of micronutrients.
Jesse: As listeners of our show, you get 20% off all your Sunwarrior purchases to take advantage. Go to ultimatehealthpodcast.com/sunwarrior. Again, that URL is ultimatehealthpodcast.com/sunwarrior. Other great news, if you spend $50 or more, you get free shipping, go and get yourself some Liquid Light today and upgrade your hydration. And now back to our chat with Chalene.
Marni: I love that you bring this up and it’s so true. And as you mentioned before with our podcast and interviewing all these amazing guests through our podcast, I have transformed my diet, my health. I was vegetarian, Vegan, transformed to more of a Paleo Diet found out I have Hashimoto’s and this learning curve and this journey just continues to grow and I’m not at a still point in time. It’s constantly evolving.
Marni: But I think this message will never and should never get old, is that people have to really trust themselves and really honor where they’re at on their path and take all this information in and be discerning. I think that’s the key is really sift through it and really find out what’s working for them, what’s not working for them buy books like yours. And what I love about your book too is it you do have some customization in it. It’s not like this is it, this is the only way. It’s really showing people that you can kind of carve out your own path on this journey.
Chalene: Oh, Marni, I love that you said that. And that’s the difficult piece to writing a book like this because when I first started with a test group of a thousand people and we just kept expanding it. Initially, I really wanted to teach people how to do all of this themselves. It was 100% personalized from the start, but we’ve been so conditioned to believe that we will fail. We don’t know what we’re doing. We’re adults, you might be an engineer or a dentist or a chiropractor or a brilliant attorney, but you’re not smart enough to figure out how you should eat. You need to ask someone for permission and a list of your allowed foods and disallowed foods, the good and the bad, you know, so we’ve, we’ve like taken away people’s independence and belief in themselves when it comes to their nutrition because we always say, this is how you do it and this is how you need to do it forever. Eventually it may work at first. Most diets do at first because we are paying attention and then homeostasis kicks in and then it doesn’t work. And then we believe, well, I have probably lost discipline. I must be doing this wrong. I don’t know what I’m doing. I need to ask someone else for another list of rules. So initially when we started testing this, we had such resistance from people. They just refused to make decisions for themselves, refused. We would show them how to put together a meal plan. We’d show them how to test what food intolerances that they had, and we would show them how to start. But they really just would say, but just tell me, tell me what to do. So we had to strike a balance. And the book is that beautiful balance where we put together a framework, but at every single turn we’re saying and encouraging you to understand this is yours to customize. Think of it as kind of like a gingerbread house. You know where two people can sit down with the same kit from Michael’s and at the end of your craft project, they look completely different. You know, we start with a framework so that that person who is so afraid to even start, they’ve got someplace to begin. But again, and we want you to understand, no two people are the same. You know, if you’re a different age, different gender, you live in a different environment, your exercise, your objectives, your epigenetics, your genes, your beliefs, your goals, all of these things mean you’ve got to personalize the experience because even how we define success is so different for each one of us.
Jesse: I love that. And we’re going to get into the framework of the one three, one method here in a little bit. But before we do Chalene, I want to get back to your story and talk about your journey back to health. So starting with when you leave that office, what’s the first thing you do?
Chalene: That’s great, Jesse. The first thing I did was I called my manager at the health club where I taught fitness classes and I gave up all my classes. I started teaching everyday at 5:45 AM five days a week. And I knew the first thing I had to do was change my sleep. There’s just no way around it. I was not going to bed until very late and then waking up at 4:30 AM every day for years and years and years. So I gave up those classes and I also did that because I knew that was like, you know, 14 hours of exercise that I wasn’t counting. So I gave up those classes and then put together a plan for myself to continue to stay fit, but in a way that was more restorative and didn’t place so much undue stress on my body for a time being, you know, and again, I don’t want someone to think, oh, this is what I need to do. It was what I needed to do. I had to give up the intense hardcore pounding, long endurance bouts of aerobics, like running hours of kickboxing. And I had to figure out like how can I reintroduce that into my schedule once I’ve allowed myself to heal? Then the next thing I did was I had to approach my gut health to look at like what do I need to do to begin to heal my gut? And that meant for me, I had to figure out what was causing inflammation, what foods I was eating that I was sensitive to that was problematic for me. I had to understand how my metabolism works and how to stop worrying about calories and to think more about the micro nutrients I was missing. I had to go back to eating real food. I was so afraid of eating real food that at the time when I had my scan that I thought I was quote, clean eating. I was really surviving on protein shakes and protein cookies and protein bars and the occasional salad and diet coke every single day. A giant thing of diet coke because you know it’s zero calories. It was a wakeup call, like none of that had anything to do with health, but it’s all marketed to us as health.
Jesse: And a number of years later you went back and had another spec scan done. How many years was that and what were the results?
Chalene: That’s the before and after photo I’m most proud of. It’s certainly not going to get as many likes on Instagram as like a bikini before and after shot, but I think it’s much more powerful. It’s the before and after shot of my brain. I went back exactly two years to the month and had the scan done again. I probably should have gone back a year later, but I was afraid. I was afraid that my results wouldn’t be as impactful and that I might slip back into my old habits are like not see the point of them. But anyways, when I did go back and have the scan done a second time, it just looks like a completely different brain. I mean Doctor Amen. He just walked back in the room with my results and he was beaming and I brought one of the gals from my team to videotape it and I said, whether it’s good or bad, I want you to get my reaction. And when I saw him walk in the door with this huge smile on his face, just kind of shaking his head at me. I got tears in my eyes because I knew and he said, you’re going to be really happy. I still get upset that you got not upset. I get happy because it is possible to completely reverse so many of the diseases that we’re dying from, and we can fix these things, not with medicine but through education and food and we’re smart enough people have been placating to us and marketing garbage to us. And the truth is no one is smarter than you are. And if we just returned to our common sense and do things to care for our bodies instead of beating them into submission in the name of health, it’s just crazy how resilient every part of your body is.
Marni: And what’s also amazing is that your brain can change. I think we think we have these, you know, set organs, set parts of our body that can’t change. And once we’re diagnosed or once we have something, we’ve got it and the brain, the most magnificent of you know, parts of our body can change. And in seeing that and seeing that visual, how can you not get goosebumps and know that you were in control of that transformation.
Chalene: And it’s remarkable how many doctors prescribe things for our brain, for anxiety, for depression, for sleep, for add. And they’re prescribing things for our brain. And they never look at the organ and they never look at the organ. They never look at the brain and they’d never ask us about nutrition. They ask us how we feeling. Oh okay, we’ll here’s a pill to cover it up. Which is in many cases creating more extensive damage to our guts and creating this, you know, downward cycle where now people are trying to figure out what’s the right med and do we need to up the dosage and tried this pill instead of that pill. If we just really returned and allowed our bodies. And certainly I’m not trying to suggest that medication is something we shouldn’t look to cause sometimes it does save lives. But I think if we looked at a food and body first approach, we have this miraculous gift that we’ve been given and we just need to understand a little better.
Marni: So let’s get into the framework of your book, the 131 Method, and it starts off with finding what your health objective is. So let’s start there. Talk about what this is.
Chalene: The first one in 131 is what is your objective, right? So for me, my objective in that moment was how do I reduce inflammation? How do I heal my leaky gut? Each one of us has a different health objective and it’s really up to you to decide what that needs to be. For some people it is weight loss, but for others it might be I can’t eat anything and I don’t need to lose weight. But I sure would like to be able to eat something and not have to exercise for so long. I’d like to help my metabolism. And then the three stands for three weeks of diet phasing. And this is where you’re practicing a way of eating but not indefinitely to figure out how that works for you. And the final one is for a week too fast and refuel. And I know that the term fasting can scare a lot of people, but it’s a catchall term that we use. And really what we’re doing is fasting down the bad bacteria in your gut. And there’s ways to do this where you’re actually eating food and there’s ways to do this where you’re actually in nutritional or even fasting ketosis. So there’s lots of different ways to do it in so many different approaches and so many different modifications that not only do you have the option of taking, I’m encouraging you and teaching you how to decide how, in fact you need to modify every step of this. The 131 is three phases. So when I say that you, you know, one objective, you phase your diet for three weeks, well you’ll do that three times. So the first phase is what we call the ignite phase. And again, everything can be modified, but typically were designing this for the general population. And the general population, especially here in the United States, is struggling with a diet that’s has their insulin and their hormones and their hunger regulators all out of whack. So the ignite phase is designed to kind of bring that back into balance. In Layman’s terms, you might consider it Ketoish. Again, it’s not something that we necessarily think that there’s enough research to substantiate beliefs that you should be in a deep state of ketosis indefinitely that’s your individual decision. But we do want to help people get that peace and balance first. The second phase is what we call nourish and in nourish. You’re really focusing on the micronutrients and noticing how those feel and figuring out like what are you deficient in and where can you find that in your diet and how does that make you feel and how does it help you sleep better and to create serotonin and to help regulate again, hormones and help you to live optimally. And where at the same time reducing protein intake, specifically animal protein intake, and just to see how do you feel, how does that feel for you? And for some people they’re like, no, I’m not giving up my animal protein. I’m a meat eater. Great. Do that. But we give you the framework to at least test it for three weeks and just see how you feel.
Jesse: And what are some of the specific foods that you’re using during this phase to increase the micronutrients.
Chalene: This is kind of a stepped process where no one feels like, oh gosh, I can’t do this. I don’t eat like to eat those kinds of foods. You know, we teach people how to introduce dark leafy greens and then not just all dark leafy greens because some people, you know, if you’ve been eating it pretty processed diet and I put you on a kale salad, you’re going to have some digestional discomfort, shall we say, and it might not sit well with you and you might not feel great at first. So we teach people, all right, if that’s you, here’s how to start, here’s some greens that are going to be easier for you to digest. And that, as you know, digestion starts while we’re chopping up our salad, right? The mouth starts to salivate and we’re teaching people how these things begin to impact the way that we digest food and even how easy it is for our digestive track too process these things so that we’re not creating additional damage even from eating some plant based foods are or lectins. So it’s helping people to understand all of mainly vegetables. You know, we do introduce fruits too, but we want people to understand the um, glycemic impact and the insulin impact, which is their choice to make. But I just think people need to understand how does it make you feel. If you start your day with oatmeal and fruit, no problem. But how does that make you feel? And the final phase that we have is what we call renew and renew. We practice something that’s called a macro-phasing. And macro-phasing is just a fancy term, which generally means you’re going to do a couple of days where you’re eating a diet that’s low in carbohydrates, high in healthy fats, a couple of days where you’re eating low fat, low calorie, high protein, a couple of days where you’re eating a lot more carbs. So that’s like real life. You know, we’re teaching your body to have the metabolic flexibility it needs to use food as fuel the way it was intended. But frankly, if I can be completely honest about, I think all diets, whether it’s a low carb diet or a high carb diet or Paleo, Vegan, Keto, whatever it is, every single one of those diets has a boatload of people who’ve had success. And oftentimes that’s because we’re paying attention. So what I want to teach people is that the only rules that matter are the ones that work for you. Don’t get caught up in the identity of a diet where you are Keto for life, Paleo for life, you know, whatever it is for life. Instead, figure out in this season, how do you need to eat to feel your best and to have optimal health and to perform at your highest and that our diets, from an evolutionary standpoint, we’re not the same year round. Our ancestors didn’t eat the same foods because of resource availability in the winter as they did in the summer. And so that’s how we were designed. We were designed to phase in and out. And that’s what allows us to avoid those plateaus and that homeostasis that often results in dreaded weight gain.
Marni: I love how you use the analogy that this is like cross training. We can all relate to that in terms of fitness and now we can do this with our diet and how we should do it we should really change things and come in and out of it. So I think that gives people a bit of a snapshot of what that looks like, trick it, give it some change, give it something to think about,
Chalene: You know, you say trick it. And I think of that term too, you know, it’s almost like you’re tricking your body, but if you think about it, the only thing that’s been trickery is what we’ve been subjected to in terms of marketing. Everything happens in phases and seasons and cycles, your menstrual cycle, cycles of the moon. Our sleep cycles our wake cycles. Everything happens in seasons and cycles. And the only place where that hasn’t been the case is since the, you know, industrial revolution and the advent of marketing machines that want us to eat more and more and more eat, you know, a snack before breakfast and then your kids eat breakfast and then they need to have a mid morning snack and then they go to lunch and then they come back and they have a snack after recess and then they come home from school and they have a snack and then they go to soccer practice. And one of the mom’s needs to bring juice boxes for everybody in cupcakes. It’s just we have been inundated with this idea that we’re supposed to be eating the same thing and we’re supposed to be eating a lot more often than what we were designed to do. And we’re eating things that frankly our bodies don’t recognize as real food.
Jesse: So going back to the framework here, we’re going to go through each of these phases and it’s going to be three weeks on the Diet and then one week off to fast and refuel. We’ve talked about fasting a little bit. I want to get into the four fasts of the 131 Method and the first one you talk about in the book is intermittent fasting. So can you get into that?
Chalene: Absolutely. First I want to say the fourth week, which is you know the week to fast and refuel, that is always an optional week. So let’s say you’re on the ignite phase and you’ve gone three weeks and now you’re approaching that fasting and refuelling week and you’re like, you know what, I just, I’m not a good candidate for fasting on breastfeeding or I’ve had a an eating disorder and we give you the parameters to decide if in fact you’re a good candidate for it. You may decide it’s just a stressful time right now. I’m not going to fast. You shouldn’t. Then you continue phasing your diet for the fourth week and then you change your diet as we approach the next phase, meaning nourish. So the fast is never a requirement more so I want people to understand how you can use fasting to boost your health, increase longevity. It’s not necessarily something you want to do for weight loss. Although you tend to lose a few pounds, but most of that is going to be water weight. There’s a small percentage that is body fat. The reason why we want to do this is because when we fast down the bad bacteria in our gut, we have the ability to completely rebuild our immune system in a very short period of time. Intermittent fasting is what I like to call kind of the starter place or the fasting 101 that’s most people can do it pretty easily. In fact, everyone who is listening is an intermittent faster. They don’t realize it, but if you were sleeping last night and you weren’t eating while you sleeping, you were intermittent fasting is just taking a period of time, a blockage each day where you’re not eating, and for most people, that just means making sure that your breakfast is later in the day. You know, if you normally have breakfast at let’s say 7:00 AM, you just push it til eight and you keep pushing it a little later in the day until you’re eating all of your meals within say an eight hour window. Again, it depends on your personal needs and objectives. And then from there, each one of the fasts that we suggest is a stepping stone. Like it might be a little bit more advanced, but we teach you, here’s the important part. I really want your listeners to take this into consideration. Fasting is not for all populations and you need to know how to prepare your body to get into a fast and the different types of fasting that you can do and why are you fasting? What is the purpose of it? Are you trying to create autophagy, you know, the killing off of dead, unbroken cells so that your body starts to really produce and regenerate stem cells so that you can starve down the bad bacteria in your gut. Why are you fasting? Are you fasting for brain health, for focus and based on the answer to why your fasting, then you can select the appropriate fast for you. But there’s so many different ways to fast and I’m, I’m not a fan of the people who say, well, there’s only one way to fast and it’s a water fast or there’s only one way to fast and it’s only a few, um, completely abstain from food. And you know, and we know from the research that’s been produced out of the University of southern California with Doctor Valter Longo and the human studies that he’s been able to do that. There’s a way to create what’s known as fast mimicking where the body on a cellular level level believes that you’re fasting. It slips into a state of Ketosis and you can do so even while consuming certain nutrients. But people, man, they freak out about the fasting thing. And there’s so many zealots who are like oh if you have even black coffee breaks the fast, well, I guess it depends on how it is you’ve defined your fast and I think we all need our own definitions.
Jesse: Now we’re going to take another quick break from our chat with Chalene to give a shout out to our show partner, Perfect Keto.
Marni: Perfect Keto does such a great job with their bars. Jesse and I love having them on hand. There’s quite a few different flavors. The chocolate Brownie, the lemon poppy, and the salted caramel. What I love about these bars. They have such good flavor, such good texture, and they really tied you over. They’ve got 10 grams of protein, no sugar, and you feel totally satisfied. In fact, we’re running so low on bars, we’re going to put in a new order today and they just released their new chocolate chip cookie dough bar, which I can’t wait to try. So if you haven’t tried the bars yet, get your hands on a few boxes, you’re going to love them, I promise.
Jesse: And as a listener of our show, you get 20% off all your Perfect Keto purchases to take advantage. Go to ultimatehealthpodcast.com/perfectketo. Again, that URL is ultimatehealthpodcast.com/perfectketo, their products ship worldwide free shipping in the US. Go and put an order in today for some bars. I know they’re going to be a staple in your house.
Marni: And now a shout out from other show partner Organifi. It’s sometimes hard to get enough protein every day, especially when you’re busy and on the go. And we need protein, especially if you’re working out training hard, your body needs protein to repair and recover and you want to get your protein from whole foods as much as possible, but sometimes it’s not possible and it’s not feasible and the complete protein from Organifi can help fill in the gaps. Each scoop is packed with 20 grams of plant based protein from pea protein, quinoa, pumpkin seed and the taste is awesome. It comes in vanilla and chocolate and when it’s added to your smoothies, it’s just super nourishing and totally balanced. Jesse and I love adding it to our morning smoothies. We balance between the vanilla and the chocolate. Typically we have the vanilla in the morning and a berry smoothie and the chocolate in the afternoon with an almond butter banana smoothie, so good try the complete protein you’re going to really enjoy upgrading your smoothies with this.
Jesse: As a listener or a show, you get 20% off the whole Organifi lineup and to take advantage, all you need to do is go to ultimatehealthpodcast.com/organifi, again, that URL is ultimatehealthpodcast.com/organifi and Organifi ends with an i go on try out both of these protein powders today, we know you’re going to love them and now back to our chat with Chalene.
Jesse: Okay, so some of the other fasts in the book or the shortened window fast, which the way I took that, it was just a little bit tighter of an intermittent fast, so you’re making that window a little bit more narrow. You got one meal a day where you’re tightening that up even more and then you have your three day mini fast, which sounded like a water fast. Is that what that is?
Chalene: Not necessarily. I don’t recommend that people usually jump right into a water fast. Myself personally, I’ve only done one water fast when I do the 131 which I’m always doing it. It’s just a way of life. I’m just facing my diet. I would say probably every 12 weeks I do a fast sometimes more often depending on if there’s something going on that I feel like I really need it. Like if I’ve done a bout of antibiotics or if I have something that’s really requires my mental focus. A lot of times I’ll try to plan a fast around that, but I’m a really big fan of a fat fast where you are in Ketosis, you’re monitoring your ketosis. For me personally, but I’ll supplement with a pure fat. For me, I do that for the mental reasons. Like you know, everybody else is eating dinner. It feels awfully restrictive to just sit there with a cup of bone broth or a cup of tea. So I might do like a pure MCT oil or coconut butter and you know these things have calories and there’s a group out there who believe well then that’s not truly fasting. But if you look at the research, you are able to create fast mimicking results. So it’s all about, you know, what is your personal objective.
Jesse: And before that health scare in your initial brain scan, had you ever dabbled with fasting at all?
Chalene: No, I was the anti, I would tell my audience, you know, if you skip a meal, you’re slowing your metabolism, never go more two hours without food. You know, fasting is going to destroy your metabolism, which is so not true. And, and for me, I needed to see that myself when I started practicing these fasts. I would often go and do a dexa scan to figure out, okay, what’s my metabolic rate before I start the fast, in the middle of the fast, and after the fast and categorically each time I tested. And these results are pretty common for many of the people who have gone through our program. We’ve had 50,000 people now who’ve gone through the 131 online program. But categorically each time I tested my metabolic rate was higher in the middle of my fast and after my fast for up to two weeks sometimes. It is pretty exciting. And then the other thing I assumed because I heard it and I repeated it, was that if you skip a meal or if you were to fast, your body would immediately eat your muscle. You know, that’s just a common myth that’s passed around amongst personal trainers and fitness enthusiast. But that’s actually not true. And there’s a big difference from a metabolic standpoint between starvation and fasting. When we’re fasting, you’ve got plenty of fuel available when you’re starving, you’ve got too much glycogen still on board. And you know from a diet that’s really high in glucose and carbohydrates. And so when you stop eating and you’ve burned through that, your body is starving for more. So that’s a different state of getting the body into a state of ketosis first before you begin your fast, which makes fasting so much more comfortable, so much more doable. And unless you’re underweight or under body fat, there’s ample body fat for you to live on. So your body isn’t in starvation mode, so it doesn’t slow the metabolism.
Jesse: So the last one in the 131 is a week to fast and refuel. And we’ve talked about the fasting part now, but let’s get into refuelling and what that looks like.
Chalene: Well, for a lot of our participants and for most people, this is a beautiful time to figure out what things are causing you inflammation, what foods are problematic. Certainly you can do food sensitivity testing and there’s some controversy around which ones of those are the most accurate, but I really think you just can’t deny what you know to be true. I certainly have done countless food sensitivity tests and food allergy tests and there are certain things that still do not show up on those test results for me, but I know for a fact I can’t eat them. It just destroys my gut. And so this is an opportunity to start with a clean slate. I liken it to thinking of, you know, you’ve had these processed foods, foods that are really high in sugar, foods that are problematic for you and now you’re starting with a clean slate. So this is an opportunity to get it right, to introduce foods that have diversity foods that you can figure out because you’re isolating them after you finish the fast, instead of going back to like a full plate that’s got, you know, 10 different ingredients on it. We teach people how to start with one food at a time, a snack sized serving, you know, and then wait an hour or so you start with a snack sized serving to figure out like is so is this a food that is causing me all the problems? Because you’ll know right away when your gut is completely empty, it’s a straight shot. Like you know, you’re able to identify there’s no accumulation of time or that particular food. So you really get a true sense of what foods are causing you problems and it gives you an opportunity, as I said, just start adding diversity into your gut and eliminating those processed foods that you can live without and really taking care of one of the most important areas of your health and your immune system, your gut microbiome.
Jesse: So when it comes to doing the 131 Method, how important is mindset and getting our heads wrapped around this the right way?
Chalene: That’s the most important part for me. I just pray that we kind of wake up and stop with all the food rules and all the diet rules and all the shaming and all of the, you know, isolation in these camps around foods. And I see people get so vehemently defensive of the way that they eat and it’s the way that everyone else needs to eat. And it just creates this shame around food. Like I hear words like a cheat meal and I think, well cheating is, that’s an ethical term. I mean that’s a term that we should really stick to calling someone when they break their marriage vows and not someone who decides they want to have popcorn. And when it comes to even inflammatory foods and food lists like y’all can, here’s the foods you need to eliminate, here’s the foods you can have. I even think those, it’s so unrealistic. Like let’s let people figure out what works for them. And then once you really know that, it’s so beautiful, the transformation, I see people experience when they go through the 131. The one word I hear them say over and over again is I finally have freedom. I finally have stopped looking at, you know, diet fads and what everybody else is doing and listening to my girlfriend who is supposedly the expert because I know what works for me. I might have a cupcake for my son’s birthday party, so what? I now know how it’s going to impact me as opposed to memorizing a list of foods that I’m not supposed to have. And then just eliminating them. It’s much more powerful when you know, like I don’t really want it because it doesn’t really make me feel that good.
Marni: And beyond food beyond mindset, there’s also the lifestyle component, how we sleep, how we move. So let’s get into some of the ways that you like to move yourself now after having your huge background in fitness and moving so much, what does your current routine look like? And also tell us about your sleep habits.
Chalene: Sleep. As I said before, it was just a 4:30 wake up. No matter what time I went to bed and there were, it was way too often. I was going to bed at 1130- 1230-1 o’clock in the morning. I was tired and wired. I couldn’t sleep, and I also didn’t feel as though I deserved sleep. I felt like I’ve got to fit it all in, so I’m going to have to get up early. I’m going to have to go to bed late. So sleep was the biggest one. Now I adjust my wake up time, right? So if I do happen to stay up later than I should, I don’t allow myself to wake until seven and a half hours later. Seven hours is kind of the minimum amount I can function pretty well on. I don’t beat my body up endlessly anymore. I worked out every single day unless there was some, you know, life altering event. Now I wake up and I go, how do I feel? Let’s see. I plan to do upper body strength today, but my body feels like stiff and sore and tired. I’m just gonna walk. I’m just going to do some piyo. I’m just gonna do something that feels restorative. My workouts now are generally built around building strength and really paying attention to what makes me feel restored. In the past I was just like, if I’m not crawling, if I’m not dead, if I’m not pouring with sweat and shaking than it wasn’t a decent workout.
Marni: It’s so hard to get your head around that. I’ve been there as well. Again, being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I had to slow down. I had to really put all the breaks on for my spinning classes, my fast runs, and it was so hard because mentally you feel like the only way you’re going to lose some weight or feel energized or you know, breakthrough is harder, is better, but the importance of slowing down and I’m so happy that that was a big part of your transformation as well because I think so many women especially get caught in this trap.
Jesse: And Chalene, I’ve heard you tell a story, speaking of slowing down where there was a point in your life when slowing down was really hard for you. And I know this is something you’ve worked on and gotten better at over time, but I’ve heard you tell the story and I’d love for you to tell it to our listeners of when you’d go watch a movie in the past and you couldn’t actually shut your brain off.
Chalene: Anytime there was some type of whatever, recreation, even a vacation or a movie or going to a child’s birthday party or even like even a soccer game, I would inside feel such an internal panic because that would mean I’d have to be sitting still. I couldn’t be doing something. You know, in my mind what I would say is, okay, well you can just sit here and you can work mentally. Because I felt like if I wasn’t doing or creating or working that I wasn’t a valuable person, I had to sort through that myself in therapy and figure out like why is it I don’t feel like I deserve to rest or that if I am resting, I’m worthless basically. And I had to work through that, which is so crazy to think about now. Cause now it’s like my favorite thing to do is to sit on the couch and watch documentaries with my husband or listen to a comedy podcast or take a walk on the beach. I must’ve been the most horrible person to be married too. I’d see my husband’s sitting on the couch. I’d be like, do you need a list? Do you want me to create a list for you? Cause I can create a list for you because I’ve got a list right here. I couldn’t relax and I couldn’t handle seeing somebody else just relaxing.
Jesse: And as a mom of two, you talk about how being a mom comes first and then everything else in your life is second. How do you manage as a busy entrepreneur with so many different things going on? How do you manage to keep that in the forefront and keep that perspective? All the time.
Chalene: My daughter’s 19 and we were just having a conversation. She was talking to me about how she, one of her girlfriends wanted to just go spend the day. At the beach and how that kind of gave her anxiety to think about just relaxing at the beach. And I thought, oh man is perfect. As you think you’re trying to parent some of your tendencies or they’re going to pick up on them, you know? And although I try to address these things as quickly as possible, there’s no doubt that it has had an impact on my kids too. We made a decision, Brett & I pretty early on in our marriage to create personal policies in writing that placed our children and our family and our marriage first. And so any opportunity that came our way, we just would measure it against our personal policy for that season of our lives. And now I’d say 90% of the time the answer was, uh, thanks for thinking of us. But unfortunately we’re not able to do that at this time. We just said no. And that forced us to be more creative because I wanted to be a present parent. We both worked from home even though we had headquarters where we had employees. The flip side of that is a lot of times I sacrificed sleep because when our kids came home every day, one of our policies was there’s no more work. Nobody in our house meeting about work. We’re not taking meetings at that time or scheduling phone calls or podcasts or interviews, 3:15 when the kids walk in the door, honey your home and you know, we want it to be about them and we wanted them to feel peace. I would say the only thing that was difficult about it was from an ego standpoint, you figure out a way to make money. You figure out a way to get your message out there. It’s the thing that was difficult about it was the FOMO. You know, I always felt like, Oh man, I wish I could say yes to that, but I knew what was a priority to me.
Marni: You made a commitment and he stuck to it. And you know, from hearing you speak on other podcasts and hearing about your kids, they just sound amazing. They’re doing incredible things and yeah, it just sounds like you’ve got a really strong family unit.
Chalene: We weren’t perfect for sure, but I think we did a really, really good job. Like I am so proud of the sacrifices that we made because sometimes the FOMO was so deep, I could feel it in my bones, but I just knew I could see it in the confidence in our kids and the amount of time that we could devote to each other and to them. Every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else and we just have a flash in the pan with these kids and then we can say yes to other things once they’re adults. And I’m not suggesting my, our priorities need to be somebody else’s. This isn’t a judgment call. It was something Brett and I both decided because of the way that we were raised and because of our commitment to our faith and our family. That’s just what we believed was the right thing for us.
Marni: I love it. And before we wrap up, there’s one last question we have to ask you and that is what does ultimate health mean to you?
Chalene: It is health that starts with your heart and your head. It’s not a six pack, it’s not what you look like. It’s truly how you feel both physically and mentally and how you’re able to translate it into being present and a loving, caring person in the lives of the people who matter the most.
Jesse: Love that. And the new book is the 131 Method and Chalene other than the listeners getting a copy of the new book, how can they connect with you?
Chalene: Oh, I’d love to hear from take a screenshot of this podcast so I know that that’s where you heard me and uh, send me a DM on Instagram and I’m @ChaleneJohnson on Instagram.
Jesse: Perfect Chalene. We’re going to link all that up over @ultimatehealthpodcast.com for the listeners and we just want to thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been wonderful.
Chalene: Well you guys do such a great service. It’s really full circle to have been here with you guys today. So thank you so much for the opportunity.
Marni: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Jesse: Thank you.
Marni: Love this conversation with Chalene. So many powerful messages and so good to learn about her story and to learn about the 131 Method and hopefully you took a lot away from it. Let us know over on Instagram. Be sure to tag @ChaleneJohnson and @ultimatehealthpodcast. Let us know what you think. Every time we get a tag we take a look at it, we stockpile them, and then on Fridays at 12 o’clock eastern we do a share of 10 different stories. So maybe your story will be featured this week. Let us know what you think.
Jesse: For full show notes, be sure and head over to ultimatehealthpodcast.com/292 we’re going to have links there to everything we discussed in a nice show summary, so be sure and check those out. And also now we’re doing a worksheet for every episode, so go there and download your free worksheet that goes along with Chalene’s episode. Before we let you go, I want to give some love to our editor and engineer Jay Sanderson over @podcasttech.com Jase thanks for doing such a great job putting the show together. And his weeks fun fact about Jase is that him and his wife had been having a shot of apple cider vinegar every morning and it sure wakes them up. Potent Jase, but what an awesome addition to the morning routine. Have an awesome week. We’ll talk soon. Take care.
Disclaimer: This is a raw transcript and it may contain some errors. To listen to the complete audio interview, go to ultimatehealthpodcast.com/292.
291: Dr. Joseph Mercola – KetoFast • Near-Infrared Saunas • Stop Eating Before Bed
290: Dr. Alan Christianson – The Metabolism Reset Diet • Is Your Liver Overloaded? • Journaling Before Bed
287: Dr. Steven Gundry – The Longevity Paradox • Exercise Impacts Your Microbiome • Top Sources Of Polyphenols
273: Dr. David Perlmutter – Grain Brain • Cholesterol Is Your Friend • What Is Keto Cycling?
267: Dr. Datis Kharrazian – Why Isn’t My Brain Working?
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